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When you’ve been through quite a few harsh Maine winters with your animals, you like to think you’re well prepared. We do everything we can to ensure our goats and our fowl are hale and hearty, and have all the resources they need to face the cold. But some things, you just can’t can’t prepare for.
This past winter was the hardest we’ve ever faced. We were plunged into a severe cold snap in December that lasted for weeks. None of the animals were prepared for sudden drop into sub zero temps, and it compromised everyone. We lost our Great Pyrenees, Nimbus, suddenly to a stomach torsion. Then our oldest and dearest doe., Mizi, fell ill with pneumonia and toxemia. After constant nursing, never leaving her side, she gave birth to a doeling, and we lost her several days later. It was so traumatic, that I still haven’t fully processed the loss. My grandmother passed away a few days after that.
After these especially heavy hits, we had one of our doelings take ill a few days after birth. Despite constant care, that included sleeping with her on the couch for a week, and a Saturday drive to a vet over an hour away so she could be seen, she passed away. Even though an necropsy would reveal a complicated set of conditions that couldn’t be helped, it ripped my heart out. Any issues with my babies hits me especially hard.
I was chatting with a farm friend a few weeks later, and he mentioned that he had triplets born to one of his favorite does. He was surprised because the buckling was abnormally huge, one of the doelings was average, and the other doeling was born weak and tiny, the smallest kids he’d ever had on his farm. The dam was doing poorly after kidding, and it was a challenge to give this tiny doeling the constant care she was going to need to pull through. I offered to care for her, and after a few days, he agreed and brought her to us to look after.
Little Ztargate arrived in a basket, well propped up so she wouldn’t fall over, as she couldn’t stay upright on her own. She had no appetite and we had to force her to take 1 -2 oz. of milk every few hours. When taken out of her basket, she could only stand briefly, and not well – her front legs were bent in a way I’d never seen before. Her bottom jaw jutted out with an underbite that made her adorably angry. The first night we had her I felt hopeless and worried she wouldn’t make it until the morning. My husband said we probably took on too much with this one. Because she wasn’t eating well, I gave her a tube feeding before bed. Even though it was only a few ounces, it was too much, and she brought milk back up, something I’d never seen before. I worried I had done damage by overfeeding her, and spent the night upright, holding her and making sure she made it through the night.
She made it, but still had no appetite. Too scared to tube her again, we all patiently got as much milk as we could into her. Her eyes and nose became runny and she coughed after eating. When she spiked a fever we gave her penicillin, but she showed little improvement. I worried. However, she managed to get herself out of her basket and let us know she wanted to move around and be a part of our world.
Eventually, she discovered her appetite, but still didn’t eat much , and the amounts she would eat varied erratically. Her legs remained bent, and the joints appeared to be locked into place. I gave her a BoSe injection, hoping if it was selenium deficiency it would help. She showed more interest in being up and about, but tired quickly.
After about 2 weeks, I had the vet coming out to look at another goat, and asked if she would examine Ztargate as well to give us her feedback. Her immediate reaction upon seeing her – we were advised to put her down. After spending some more time with her however, the vet could see she was active and didn’t appear to be in pain and was willing to consider options. Unfortunately, she said she couldn’t give us any definitive answers on her legs without doing tests and x-rays. She suggested the possibility of doing some soft splinting on her legs, but said it would put pressure on her joints that could cause her pain.
We weren’t prepared to do any splinting without guidance, so we continued to explore other routes. A friend of ours who is a vet tech suggested heat therapy on the joints and more aggressive supplementing. She also suggested a potential surgical consult.
Ztargate continued to gain strength and appetite, but her front legs remained frozen and bowed. My husband said from the way the joints were locked, he didn’t have much hope that they would get better. I held on to hope. What else could I do? This tenacious little doeling had stolen my aching heart, and as long as she kept trying, so would I.
One day, as I was cruising the goat groups on Facebook, I stumbled upon a post with a video of a baby goat with legs that looked similar to Ztargate’s. After scrolling through the comments, I ran into a possibility that had never even crossed my mind – Rickets. Rickets leads to enlarged joints and bowed legs, and is caused by severe vitamin D deficiency. Since we suspected she became severely deprived of nutrition in the womb, stunting her development, a vitamin deficiency made sense. I talked it over with her owner and he agreed it made perfect sense. I started her on a multi-vitamin injection right away.
As the weeks progressed, Ztargate grew in strength, and ever though her front legs remained bowed, she climbed, and hopped, and frolicked the best she could. She filled my heart. And after some time, I could see one of her front legs start to straighten a tad. We tried to get her as much exercise as possible to strengthen her legs, but had to admit she needed more than the confines of our living room could offer. I didn’t want to expose her to our kids in the barn because I was worried about her fragile immune system being exposed to parasites or viruses her owner’s herd may not have a natural immunity to. There was only one good solution – it was time for Ztargate to go home.
It wasn’t until the decision to send her home was made that I realized how much we thought of Ztargate as “ours” in the time she was with us. We were all a little heartbroken, and were worried about the transition. When her owner came to get her, we all waited anxiously to see if we had made the right decision.
And we had. Ztargate joined her “new” herd reluctantly, mostly keeping to herself at first. She took issue with the way her bottle was prepared, but adjusted with some pointers from us. Her appetite was still a bit of a rollercoaster, but she was eating well for the most part. During the day she learned to “goat” with the herd, and the evenings she got to spend in the house, snuggling with her human Dad. And eventually, she started to make friends – goat friends. And she grew stronger. And her legs continued to get better.
While Ztargate’s legs may never be 100%, we all now know she’ll be a healthy and happy goat who is well loved, and who has an excellent quality of life. We all look forward to regular updates and photos of her, and seeing her thrive helps to heal the holes this winter left behind.
I hope the fact that two dairy farmers came together to save this special girl does not go unnoticed, as popular goat “rescues” continue to villainize even small operations such as ours. We may not have thousands of donated dollars and access to free wheelchairs and specialized medical care, but we do what we can for the animals that we love. And sometimes, that’s enough.